By Aoife O’Donoghue
The work of Kristjana S. Williams, a fine art illustrator, is a unique affair. A combination of hand-drawing and collage work, she has used a quote from the revolutionary Max Ernst in an attempt to concisely define it: “Collage is the exploitation of the chance meeting of two distant realities on an unfamiliar plane… and the spark of poetry that leaps across the gap as the two realities converge.”
Her intricate, eclectic designs are quickly becoming sought after in the fine art world, as they display the mystifying mixture of her Icelandic/British heritage – the stark and unforgiving Iceland (her own words), and the bright and busy streets of London. Featured as one of the rising art talents in this year’s Saatchi Other Art Fair in London (where over half of the featured artists are women, delightfully I might add) Williams’s works stand out from the fold for their astonishing attention to detail, and the commitment woven through every carefully hand-painted butterfly and leaf.
Williams is confessional in her work, which often portrays her childhood desire to leave the somewhat bleak and isolated landscape of Iceland. She admits that as a child, she couldn’t wait to get away from the Nordic country, but is appreciative of its beauty now as an adult. This contrast feeds into her work, which heavily features maps of cities, and of the world painstakingly decorated with fantastical elements. Her pieces are heavily influenced by nature, and there is an obvious preference for working with animals to people, with deer and birds featuring heavily in the majority of her pieces. Williams mostly takes inspiration from Victorian engravings, but with a modern touch she laser cuts stones, trees, and butterflies to stitch together a new landscape.
Williams’s works stand out from the fold for their astonishing attention to detail, and the commitment woven through every carefully hand-painted butterfly and leaf.
Before she moved to Victorian engravings, Williams would hand-draw every collage element, which only allowed her to complete one piece a year; now, she mostly works in digital, with the final images having up to 3000 layers in Photoshop. Williams has also started working in three dimensions to help the pieces come alive – she feels as though people can understand the pieces better that way. With digital art, it’s sometimes harder for people to understand, and certainly a lot harder for people to appreciate the work that goes into it. When they see a 3D piece, be it a textured collage, or one of Williams’s designed globes – which she has on display at the Other Art Fair – it is easier for a person to become acquainted with a piece.
Her love affair with London is evident in many of her pieces, with several of her works featuring the city, including Lundunar Kort – Shard Gler Nal 2017 (2017). An astonishingly detailed map of the city, a clash of elements like Victorian engravings and an industrial, modern London with the buildings made out of a collage of tools and industrial iron particles. Williams moved to London in her early twenties and was quickly influenced by the diverse makeup of the major city. Williams has spoken in videos about the constant influence of the city; all the signals, all the fine art, as well as the architecture. She praises the city for the collective consciousness of design work that flourishes there. Her pieces do not try to glamourise the grit of the city, and there is an honesty threaded through the pieces about London’s history; little droplets of blood marked RIP at the locations of all of Jack The Ripper’s murders, and London Bridge’s metal spikes – used for beheading – are represented by two dog heads with plastered over eyes. It’s a contrast to the dainty flowers and bugs, but it works – it’s a sort of Victorian melodrama that gives the pieces even more heart.
Her pieces do not try to glamourise the grit of the city, and there is an honesty threaded through the pieces…
Williams’s designs are available to private buyers across a spectrum of furnishings, the most coveted being her wallcoverings, of which the intricate details – from pitch-black world maps draped in collage animals, to gentle and bright florals – would capture any eye wandering a room. However, it is her corporate commissions that she is best known for. Her commissions have been for an incredibly varied range of clients, including a series of projections on the iconic Belmond Copacabana Palace in Rio, as part of the Olympics celebrations in 2016 – Williams used the butterfly, so eponymous with her work, to carry different country’s flag on their wings and represent the coming together of nations in celebration of cultural diversity. In other works, an interesting clash can be seen between the industrial-esque designs of modern London landmarks, with the iron, ornate designs of the past that Williams so loves.
Her designs also adorn the revamped branding of the Connaught Hotel, the luxury Mayfair hotel in London. Here, Williams was assigned to capture the spirit, richness, and magic of the hotel, combining 200 years of details, traditions, and idiosyncrasies to create a unique piece of art. Her final design incorporates elements from every corner of the hotel in its collage; from the curl of the wooden bannisters to the rims of cocktail glasses. The meticulous and tiny hand-painted bugs and flowers are carefully layered on top of each other, and they convey the living history of the hotel. It is possibly her finest work.
Williams’s name may soon become synonymous with fine art for the highest bidder, but it’s no surprise that her work is so valuable given that each piece is the labour of thousands of hours of careful attention, each lovingly detailed and unique in its own way. Even though her style does not fit the conventions of the established art world, her popularity indicates a shift towards greater variety in the art world – at least in two-dimensional forms.